Strike News Roundup: November 8th

by Paul William Tenny

Defamer has a number of great links today, including news that Fox has shelved 24 in favor of Prison Break and The Sarah Connor Chronicles due to running short on episodes for the former ailing drama. 24 and Chronicles were scheduled to debut side-by-side with Prison Break being pushed back, but now it looks like PB will hit the air first, followed by Chronicles mid-month, with 24 to be held back until the strike ends.

If you choose to count it, 24 makes the eighth show to be negatively affected by the strike earlier than planned.

Nikki Finke had the hilarious idea that agents are the magical solution to the strike, that both sides negotiators be benched and replaced. Let's think about that for a second. Who do agents work for? Writers. Do agents gain anything in the residuals fight? No. Does anybody trust them on either side? Debatable. Do agents have other sources of income during the strike? Yes: actors and directors. Do they have an incentive to end the strike early? Not nearly as much as the writers do.

Since agents work for writers and not the other way around, their only goal as mediators would be to secure the best possible deal for their clients, not settle a dispute where both sides win, and both sides lose. You might as well have low level studio staffers and wanna-be execs step in a mediate - brilliant.

Tina Fey (East) or Katherine Heigl (West)?
What amounts to an op-ed in Variety by one of their own writers has some odd things in it I might as well address since Variety has slanted noticeably towards the producers lately.

Many in town feel frustrated knowing that the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers could well have closed a deal had they gotten past the heated rhetoric of the past year.

While it's true that the negotiations could have done without the massive amount of unhelpful rhetoric over the past three months, that's not why the talks failed. There have been plenty of successful negotiations in the history of organized labor with just as much if not more rhetoric that was settled with time to spare.

It really started with the studios demanding negotiations start in earnest three months before the previous contract had expired. Regardless of their reasons why, the guild balked and sat on its hands while everyone speculated the guild intended to work past its contract so they could leverage SAG negotiations next year.

That turned out not to be the case, and the AMPTP started mouthing off almost immediately when they requested/demanded a meeting and the WGA opted to stay put. Both sides have been offenders in the war of words, but it started immediately on the producers side when Nick Counter - somebody his own people have described as a "bitch" - didn't get what he wanted.

The back-and-forth was not helpful, but it didn't stop things from progressing by any means.

Meanwhile, the writers may have stumbled into a scenario in which the Directors Guild could close a deal the WGA would have to passively accept.

Based one what I've read about the DGA, this was probably going to happen no matter what. I'm pretty sure the DGA has never struck in its entire existence which makes it even weaker than the writers guild is. Once this happens, they'll have not only screwed over 13,000 writers, but every actor and every director as well. I know a lot of people are hoping that the DGA would grow a spine and actually bargain tough for gains their members want just as badly as writers do, but that's not very likely.

They'll step in, undercut everyone, and walk away the perennial studio lapdogs that everybody knows they are. You know, kind of like what AFTRA does to SAG.

"There's no way that the WGA would get a better deal than the DGA," one insider opined. "There are two reasons -- the DGA's more united and more powerful than the WGA, and the companies would never allow the precedent of giving a better deal to a union that's gone on strike."

I suppose that makes sense from a certain standpoint, but just what are the producers going to do about it in the end? If the WGA stays on strike long enough, not only will there by no scripted television, there will be no movies either. That will take a heck of a lot longer than the '88 strike, but if it comes down to it, the writers are still holding the winning hand. The longer it goes, the less willing the corporate giants that own these studios and networks are going to let this drag on, and the only option open to them is to give in.

The losses to the writers ranks would be, I imagine, catastrophic, if it went that long. However, the math simply doesn't change. The longer the strike lasts, the less stuff the producers will have, until eventually they'll have no new scripts at all. Then what will they do, refuse to give the WGA a better deal than the DGA? I don't think Viacom and News Corp will sit idle while their studios go completely dormant, or bankrupt - not when those studios are raking in millions in profits for their parent companies.

Somebodies will will be broken before that happens, it's just a matter of whose it will be. I think if the DGA had any brains at all in their leadership, they'd sit on the sidelines and let WGA and SAG handle this. They'll be the benefactors of a better contract than they have the guts to bargain for and won't end up becoming the industries worst traitors in the process.

But with as many back-to-back losses as the WGA has sustained, if the DGA comes in and undercuts both them and SAG, unions could be finished completely over there. It would make so much more sense to just combine all three unions and then negotiate collectively for an above-the-line contract with sections and exceptions - removing the pay and job disparities to the contract parts rather than having it settled between which union can fuck over the other one faster.

I don't know of the laws governing unions can allow that or not, but it'd make any above-the-line union an equal rather than a toy. Think about it, even if the circumstances are different, you don't see multiple player unions in a single sport, screwing each other over, do you? If baseball players can't get a deal they want, they can walk out and end the season on the spot.

Hollywood labor needs that kind of strength so that crap like this stops being necessary just to get a four-cent-per-DVD pay increase.

And the question is money: How much would writers be gaining -- and how much would producers be losing? So far, the money is comparatively small, but the studios and networks are making money. Insiders estimate that each studio is making under $20 million a year from movie downloads. Each network is estimated to be making under $100 million from streaming and downloads. Jeff Zucker said NBC made $15 million in net revenue from iTunes sales in the 18 months that NBC U content was on Apple's service.

I'm certain that such things were the case when DVDs first came to market, and such is the case now with the nascent high-definition DVD market. I've been told that the animated film Happy Feet sold more copies in a single week than has HD-DVD and Blu-ray combined since their launch - as of the time Happy Feet was released.

Think about that, with high-def stuff coming on the market I think back in January or early spring, the total number of high-def discs from both camps for all movie titles combined couldn't match the single-week sales of a single popular DVD title.

Do the producers also argue that the high-def DVD market is "too new" and "unestablished" to warrant even paying writers at all? No, because the previous deal covers it already. Everybody knows that the high-def DVD market will eventually replace the standard-def market and that's why writes are taking the new media deal so seriously.

It doesn't matter than each network is only making $100 million from downloads, a piece of that pie is owned to the people who created the damn content, it's just as simple as that. Some day down the road when the networks are making $500 million each and we're all watching video on-demand, writers will be getting their fair share because they took a stand today.

If those $20 million and $100 million figures aren't fudged, then it won't cost the studios hardly anything to share, now will it? After all, the top CEO's of these companies are making more in their yearly salary that $20 million, some are making a great deal more.

If the numbers go up like they are projected to, then those same studios will be making a ton of cash too - everybody wins.

This strike ends, I think, when the studios corporate parents realize that even record-setting greed can't justify a labor shutdown. As writers have been forced to accept for a very long time, and this is something the studios need to realize, even a piece of something is better than all of nothing.
in Feature, Film, Labor, Television


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